Monday, June 16, 2008

The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn

Lately I have fallen out of love with  historical romance novels. I used to be able to suspend my disbelief at some of the wild circumstances, but I eventually grew tired of the spies, the spinsters, the rogues, and the heiresses. More and more the books became cookie-cutters of previous books I had read. That and the fact that many of the Regency-era novels written for the American market seemed to be less historical and more Jane Austen role-playing. The characters acted so modern. And I am not one to buy a book after an author has disappointed me, not with the price of books at $8.00 a piece. 

So it was with trepidation that I picked up Julia Quinn's The Lost Duke of Wyndham. The last three books of the Bridgerton series had been a miss with me, a series that had gone on a few books too long. 

But this book I enjoyed. It's part of a two book series, and Quinn's trademark wit was there. 

According to the back cover: 
Jack Audley has been a highwayman. A soldier. And he has always been a rogue. What he is not, and never wanted to be, is a peer of the realm, responsible for an ancient heritage and the livelihood of hundreds. But when he is recognized as the long-lost son of Wyndham, his carefree life is over. And if his birth proves to be legitimate, then he will find himself with the one title he never wanted: Duke of Wyndham. 
Grace Eversleigh has spent the last five years toiling as the companion to the Dowager Duchess of Wyndham. It is a thankless job, with very little break from the routine... until Jack Audley lands in her life, all rakish smiles and debonair charm. He is not a man who takes no for an answer, and when she is in his arms, she's not a woman who wants to say no. But if he is the true duke, then he is the one man she can never have... 
The plot is completely out there and fantastic: the Dowager Duchess of Wyndham swears the highwayman that just accosted her coach is her grandson. Not only is he her grandson, but she is certain he is the son of her favorite son. She sees it in his masked face and hears it in his voice. She is so certain that he is her grandson that she accosts him to bring him to his rightful place. 

Unfortunately, her other grandson is the current Duke of Wyndham, and if Jack does turn out to be legitimate, he will take Thomas' place as duke. Both men go through severe angst at the thought that Jack is legitimate: Jack because he is unsuitable for the role and does not want it; Thomas because all he has known is his role as Duke. His fiancee will even become Jack's along with all the land holdings and duties.  

Both are united, however, in the face of their grandmother, possibly the least likable character in Quinn's books. She is the closest to a villain this book has, as she is against everyone and the world. She would rather have Jack as duke than Thomas, despite the fact she has known Thomas all his life--she is happy enough that Jack is charming like his father. She has no problem putting people out or making them uncomfortable in the face of her own interests, especially that of her companion, Grace. She seems to throw Grace in Jack's path, making Jack uncomfortable despite his growing attraction to Grace. The duchess is rude and unlikable, with no redeeming qualities. I failed to feel sorry for her at all. That is one of the weakest parts of the book for me, the lack of character development. We are never told of her motivations apart from the "favorite son" angle. I would like to know, if not what she loved about her son the most, then what she disliked about the other two. There's always a reason! 

Jack's motivations were uneven as well. His reasons for not wanting to become duke are always hinted at but not mentioned until the end of the book. He is always charming and seems suited to the role, but he has doubts that the reader is not privy to. Perhaps if there were more hints scattered throughout the book I would not have been confused. 

Quinn is redeemed by the ending, which was emotional and perfect for the story. The reader is never in doubt of the outcome, but it is the journey that is more important than the end. Also a positive for Quinn is her homage to Steven Colbert, found on page 118: 

He flashed her a smile that shook her to her toes. "I would never claim that men and women are interchangeable, but in matters of truthiness, neither sex earns high marks. "

She looked at him in surprise. "I don't think truthiness is a word. In fact, I am quite certain it is not."

"No?" His eyes darted to the side. Just for a second--not even a second, but it was long enough for her to wonder if she'd embarrassed him.... his smile grew jaunty and lopsided, and his eyes positively twinkled as he said, "Well, it should be."
Ah, truthiness!  I was delighted to see it in there, though I think that Colbert should have gotten credit in some endnotes. 

For that alone, Quinn receives a B+. 

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